Thursday, March 28, 2019

Bin Laden: The One Man Show - Knaive Theatre

Review by John Lombard

Osama Bin Laden delivers an affable TED talk on his life and struggle in this provocative one man show.

Actor and co-writer Sam Redway strips Bin Laden of Islamic trappings and plays him as an adorkable wellness guru. Tyrrell Jones directs and co-writes this tumble through the looking glass.

Redway makes tea, dresses like an extra in The Book of Mormon, and drops frequent pop culture references such as Harry Potter and Batman. Bin Laden even invites us to call him Abu after the monkey in Aladdin.

Redway's telling of Bin Laden’s life is moving, relatable, and laced with disarming humour. By flipping the perspective on events such as the downing of American helicopter gunships in Somalia he forces us to reconsider our biases.

But while Bin Laden's veneer is friendly and likeable, Redway uses ruthless influence tactics to charm the audience into complicity.

At the start of the show, Redway offers anyone in the audience who would like it tea and biscuits - building reciprocity. He then gets the audience to admit by raising their hand that they are not happy with their government - fostering consistency. The house lights are up, so we can see how everyone else in the room is voting - establishing consensus. He paints in lavish terms how much his system can help us - coaxing liking.

This onslaught made me skeptical of Bin Laden, the way we become wary of the friendliness of a snake oil salesman. I could understand how charismatic and manipulative cult leaders can use these tactics to seduce acolytes.

This retelling also omits awkward contrary facts, such as ruthless oppression of women by the Taliban. Bin Laden may have had anguished fights with this family over his beliefs, but pestering over Coca Cola and a fridge doesn't balance against an atrocity like 9/11. Why should we care more about Bin Laden than his victims?

Bin Laden The One Man Show is clever, well-performed, and a perfect prompt for debate and conversation. It is gripping, but needs to be viewed critically.